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On public consultation, elections, and cross-cultural knowledge exchange in Ukraine


One of OpenNorth’s organizational pillars is in its global-to-local approach - working outside Canada with other organizations and governments, using our experience and expertise to apply elsewhere and bringing knowledge back to our home context. OpenNorth’s work with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Ukraine exemplifies this pillar of work. The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. NDI is headquartered in the US, with field offices in over 50 countries worldwide.

With the support of UK Aid’s Good Governance Fund, OpenNorth and NDI are working together to improve public consultation in Ukraine. The goal of the program is to develop and apply a replicable and sustainable model of public consultation; one that improves government decision making by incorporating citizens in the decision-making process. Within the program, OpenNorth works on increasing participation rates in consultation, establishing clear guidelines and consensus on the importance of public consultation for officials, working with civil society and interest groups on public consultation, and increasing accessibility and standardization of public consultation data.

Despite vast differences in bureaucratic structures, attitudes towards data-driven policy making, and the role of citizen participation in shaping policy, we find some of the same challenges in Ukraine as in Canada and other parts of the world. As we have discussed before, public consultation is not just an act of engagement - it is also a data collection exercise. Citizen responses are gathered through different media and channels (digital and analogue). These responses need to be processed, analyzed, and integrated into government decision-making.

Civil society and government partners in Ukraine and Canada communicate similar issues when treating public consultation responses as data. For example, most public consultation data is qualitative, in the form of text or audio - this makes interpretation tricky. Furthermore, data cleaning and processing can become extremely time and labour intensive, while the process of consultation can be prone to sampling biases such as self-selection. Addressing some of the challenges in public consultation data also requires a level of data literacy that is not always present within government. Our work in Ukraine is a way to adapt and scale our experiences from the Canadian context.

On the other hand, Ukraine’s unique and challenging political environment is something we can learn from. In particular, recent legislative and presidential elections in Ukraine will raise questions for operationalizing solutions to the public consultation data challenges in government:

-How can we work with and adapt to the new government’s vision to build-up data literacy and public consultation capacity?

-When is it an opportune time to promote public consultation and “data-driven” policy making with the new government?

-How will we integrate work and discussion with the previous government to assist the new government?

The newly elected government of Volodymyr Zelesky and his party’s recent sweep of the Verkhovna Rada - Ukraine’s unicameral parliament - is expected to bring a period of change. The way OpenNorth and its partners navigate this government turnover will certainly inform the way we operate in Canada and elsewhere. With federal elections looming in Canada, we are excited to learn from experiences in Ukraine and help operationalize public consultation capacity building under a new government. Our global to local approach is all about partnerships with international organizations to make our local experience and expertise relevant to others and bring back knowledge to our community. In so doing, we actively seek to contribute to international peer-to-peer knowledge networks.

We have already begun promoting this mutual learning in our work in Ukraine, with our participation in the National Forum on Establishing Effective Dialogue and Cooperation between Government, Civil Society and Citizens in Lviv in late May. Two OpenNorth staff (Suthee Sangiambut and Hannah Ker) had the opportunity to present and lead a brief workshop on qualitative data analysis in this NDI-hosted event, to much acclaim by participants. In order to further promote international and mutual learning, OpenNorth also brought Anik Pouliot - Director of Communications for the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) - to share about 10 years of knowledge and experience on public consultation in a municipal setting. Anik discussed the OCMP’s role within the city of Montreal policy making process, its independent and transparent approach - such as the use of commissioners to guide and moderate consultations and it’s efforts to remove obstacles to citizen participation - for example, by providing access to child-care facilities during face-to-face consultation events.

By the end of the National Forum, Anik Pouliot from Montreal, in the words of several Ukrainian attendees, had obtained “rockstar” status.

This blog post and the described program are made possible by the generous support of the British people through the United Kingdom’s Good Governance Fund. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies or views.

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